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Yesterday, in my writing class, someone was talking about how their humiliating moments have made for some of their best content.
What came to my mind immediately was my infamous “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” story – which my mom was scared to death would be told at her funeral.
I would have died of embarrassment to have to share it in a public setting myself; but the more I’ve been working through my stories, the more I’ve seen that the moments that cry out to be told are the ones where we’re most fully human.
How interesting that “human” shares the same root as the word “humiliation”…
*I should have paid better attention in Latin to improve my etimology – oops, I mean etymology – sorry Mr. Salsich (my Latin and English teacher) and sorry I once raised my hand in class and accidentally started my question by calling you mom).
I wrote this particular account a while back – I’m tempted to edit it, since my voice seems rather stiff in the telling; but I might as well throw it up on the web instead of sitting here polishing what I want to hide, because I think there is a lesson to be learned in sharing a rough draft.
“I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”
By Jody Susan
Although there had been many distress signals from my body as I grew up, the first one that I actually paid much attention to was one day when I found blood in my stool. I was almost nineteen, and was working at a camp that summer. I had never heard of ulcerative colitis before, but that is what it was. In order to describe colitis, you have to be kind of candid, so I guess I’ll have to take that liberty, though I will definitely be blushing as I do.
So, one day at this camp, I noticed blood and a little bit of white stuff mixed in with the brown – if you know what I mean. It scared me – I didn’t know what it was. I kept trying to go more to see if the same thing would happen and it kept looking that way each time. What was I to do? Did I have cancer? Was I going to bleed to death? I had never heard of anything like this.
You talk about embarrassing. The girl who still wouldn’t buy feminine products had to find a way to ask for advice at a camp full of practical strangers. I finally asked a lady who was over me, who had me call my mom, who was instantly panicked. Somehow I convinced her to let me finish the term out before seeing a doctor, but I think she was convinced that I was going to bleed to death before the week was over.
The day of the doctor’s appointment arrived and my mom, who is a nurse (I think only a mom who is a nurse would ever do this to her kid), says, “They’ll need a stool specimen, you know. Why don’t you find some sort of container so you can bring one to the appointment?” I about made a stool specimen right there in my pants upon hearing that! I was supposed to bring one in!?!? I put up every defense I possibly could, saying if they needed one I could surely do it at the office. Her motherly-nurse reasoning was that that was for urine specimens – no one could just do the other on demand – we might be waiting there all day.
The details that I am about to disclose have been shared with an extreme few – consider yourself privileged – although that might not be the best word for it. I rummaged through the cabinets for the chosen vessel, did my best to fill it, snapped the lid on tightly, and waited for my mom to take me to the appointment. She proudly received the yellow margarine container, which poignantly read across the top, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” I was bracing myself to be mortified, while she was glowing in the expectant praise she was sure to receive for her dutiful preparedness.
To keep it short and simple and maintain an ounce of self-respect let me just say that the contents of that little tub were subject to a very warm day, a long time in the waiting room, and quite a few minutes before we actually saw the doctor, at which time my mom had the honor of announcing “We’ve brought a stool specimen”, as she presented it to him triumphantly. I wondered if she noticed that his visage bore an appearance of confusion rather than appreciation. Nevertheless, he courteously thanked her and opened the lid.
What proceeded was quite a blur of moments, so it’s not very clear in my mind what exactly happened – perhaps because I was staring hard at the floor out of utter mortification. I do know that he quickly snapped the lid back on – muttered some kind of intention about being back soon – and was almost instantaneously on the other side of the closed door. It is interesting that the speed of a man well past his prime can exceed the velocity of a scent to one’s nostrils. He was gone when it hit us.
I could have died right there. My mom, forgetting her role as comforter, burst out laughing and gasped, “I think he went cross-eyed!” It took me a while to find any sort of humor in this, but I finally had to concede, “I guess he could believe it’s not butter.” How I ever looked that man in the eye again, I’ll never know. He probably went home to his wife and kids and told about how his knees had just about buckled under his starched, white coat before he was able to stagger down the hall and grab some kid’s inhaler for relief.
He sent in what looked to be a white plastic Abe Lincoln hat, that I was to take to the bathroom, turn upside down and fill, which I did promptly, and fled from that building as fast as I could. This was the opening chapter to the amazingly humiliating world of Ulcerative Colitis.
*My mom only said not to tell that at her funeral – she didn’t say anything about not putting it up on my website. 🙂
Editing My Own Writing
I have a lot of stories stored on my computer; but am always pretty hesitant to share them. Striving for perfection can be so paralyzing. As I reread this story, and decide whether to hit publish, there are two major hurdles:
1. I have to get over the humiliation factor.
2. I am critical of the rigid way my story is written.
I have to recognize as a writer, there are things I am scared stiff to disclose. The more I practice, the easier the words flow. Hopefully, if I continue to humiliate myself by sharing what I’d rather hide, I can be less embarrassed by the wooden way I have documented this story and tell it in a more natural voice.
The Lesson of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”
So, don’t be scared to share those rough drafts – keep putting yourself out there until your writing warms up. Before you know it, that stiff embarrassment inside you will start to melt, and your words will be as smooth as butter to your audience – even if your inner-critic can’t believe it.